Soccer season in Western New York
By Michael DePietro
Niagara County’s longest-running annual youth sporting event is set to kick off once again next week.
On June 29 and 30, the 2019 Niagara Pioneer Soccer League (NPSL) International Tournament, now in its 35th year, will host over 160 teams with more than 2,500 athletes showing up to play on the 20 fields at Fort Niagara State Park.
“It really is an amazing sight,” said Chris Woods, the Niagara Pioneer Soccer Tournament director. “Seeing 21 games all at once, whether it’s standing on top of the hill at the fort, or just walking around and seeing all the games – it really is a sight to see.”
In total, 164 teams will flock to the event from across the East Coast – from as far away as Ohio, Massachusetts and New Jersey – to take part in the tournament Additionally, 30 Canadian teams will arrive from as far away as Quebec.
At the local level, the tournament will host 40-50 teams from the Rochester area, as well as over 50 teams from Buffalo WNY Soccer, including some from Buffalo, Lockport, Wilson, Grand Island, Tonawanda, Kenmore, Hamburg and North Tonawanda.
“(We’re) a widespread tournament that brings the best club talent around to the area,” Woods said. “I think that’s one of the draws of the tournament. … I think if anybody in the area can come on out and support the tournament, you’re going to see some really good soccer.”
The tournament starts in the morning, with games beginning at 8 a.m. and going until 7:30-8 p.m. New matches start every 90 minutes. This includes games for boys and girls categorized from U9 to U19. The schedule can be found at http://niagarapioneer.demosphere.com.
According to Woods, there’s really nothing else like it: “Especially on Sunday during championship games when it quiets down a bit and a goal is scored – you hear it echo through the entire fort, and it’s really electrifying.”
The tradition of Pioneer Soccer runs deep for many who help run the tournament. Niagara Pioneer Soccer President Gary Rose has been with the league since it began in 1972, first as a player, then coach, then board member, and finally president in 2015.
Likewise, the club has been a huge part of Woods’ life, as well. His mother actually helped run Niagara Pioneer Soccer while he and his three siblings grew up playing in the tournament.
“Its great … it’s a tremendous honor to carry on the tradition,” Woods said.
He attributed much of the tournament’s long-running success to the local community.
“We’ve been doing it at the same spot for 35 years and the community really pulls together,” Woods said. “Everyone knows their roles to play. We depend on our parents and volunteers to be out their field marshaling and assisting people, and now we really have it down to a science.”
Between games, attendees are encouraged to experience the offerings available at Fort Niagara State Park or maybe hop on the free Discover Niagara Shuttle and grab a bite to eat at one of the many local restaurants nearby.
Established in 1972, Niagara Pioneer Soccer League’s mission is to foster the development of youth soccer in the Niagara Region of Western New York. The tournament serves as NPSL’s major fundraiser and helps support leagues that serve about 800 young athletes from the region in both house and travel leagues.
“The tournament allows us to do so much for the kids in the area,” Woods said. “(It really) allows us to keep the cost to a minimum for the parents, to keep them involved in soccer, and promote soccer in the Western New York area.”